Taking the Terror Out of Talking to the Press

All the witches, ghouls and goblins in the world have nothing over standing in front of a TV camera with reporters firing questions your way.  Seasoned pro or not, few things are quite as spine tingling as being interviewed by a member of the media — especially if the news your sharing isn’t all roses and rainbows.  It’s what I call public speaking on steroids — and can be terrifying if you’re not prepared!

press conference

The most fun I’ve ever had preparing for a media interview was when I was working for Kraft Foods and was managing public relations for its Post cereals brand.  I was in New York City at the offices of Hunter PR and prepping the “voices” of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble for a radio media tour in support of Post Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Pebbles cereals.  It was a blast as we fired questions at these two wonderful actors whose voices had been so much a part of my childhood – both on TV and at the breakfast table.

Since then, I’ve helped prepare countless people (none quite as colorful as Fred and Barney!) for media interviews of all shapes and sizes.  I’ve learned that whether you’re preparing a spokesperson to handle a crisis, or simply getting ready for what is sure to be a positive piece, the preparation process is basically the same.

  1. Seize the opportunity. While some are more fun than others, every interview is an opportunity to tell your story, share your opinions, set the record straight, or even simply celebrate something wonderful with the world.  It’s yours for the taking.
  1. Do your homework. Find out as much as you can about the people who will be interviewing you.  Become familiar with their past pieces and writing styles, as well as with the publications they work for.  Plug their names into Google and see what comes up.  After all, it’s likely that your interviewers will be Googling you too.
  1. Zero in on your key messages. Think about the two or three things that you absolutely want to get across during the interview.  Is it your company’s unique style, approach to marketing, or actions taken in a crisis?  How about product quality or your commitment to supporting the community?  Think about the things that make your company great and write them down.  These will become your key messages.
  1. Create a Q&A. Come up with a list of questions that you may be asked and thenQuestions and Answers answer them.  Make sure that each answer in some way relates back to your key messages.  Find a way to communicate them over and over again no matter what. Oh, and be sure your list includes the questions you are most afraid of answering.  (Just because you leave them off the list doesn’t mean they won’t be asked!)
  1. Conduct a mock media interview — or 10! This is when someone with solid public relations (PR) experience can be particularly helpful.  Because they are familiar with how various types of interviews are conducted, PR pros make great “pretend” reporters.  This is particularly important if you think the interview may be a tough one.  Try to make your mock interview as realistic as possible and record it.  If the interview will be on camera, then practice it that way.  If it’s a telephone interview, have the mock reporter call you – and be sure to stand up while answering the questions.  Your voice almost always sounds more alive and animated when standing.  If you’re prepping for a press conference or satellite media tour, you will most likely be in the hands of a PR agency or freelance consultant who will make sure you’re ready to roll.
  1. Practice, practice, practice. I used to conduct pretend interviews with myself while driving to work – way before cell phones made it normal to see drivers talking to themselves when on the road!  Use your Q&A and practice out load.  Most importantly, make sure you know your material inside out and backwards.
  1. Kill it! Dress appropriately, control the butterflies (it’s always good to have some), remember your key messages, and tell your story.  I know it’s easier said than done, but if you are prepared, chances are that you’ll nail the interview and make your company shine.  Fred and Barney certainly did.

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About Mary Jane Kinkade

I am the Director of Marketing and Development at Our Lady of Mercy Academy, South Jersey's premier Catholic high school for young women. I am mom to three amazing kids, married to my best friend, and happiest when at the beach (writing, of course!).
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